Ethics are independent of the existence of God
Ethics is the consideration of what is right and wrong in terms of what are justified and unjustified actions. People who practice religions believe that God as an Entity is inseparable from creation in that He takes a deep interest on how organisms including humans live. One then has accept that we are at the mercy of the creator who has control over our destinies. We will accordingly have no choice but to take guidance from God on our ethics and morality. This will require one to discern between the established religions on which one more appropriately reflects God’s wishes and failing that one would have to ask God directly for directions on how one should live ones life.
I examined the religions and could not make up my mind so I resorted to asking God, as a committed theist. I wanted to determine which one of God-free or God-based ethics was desirable by asking God to reveal to me the right thoughts to channel my beliefs and actions. After years of endeavour I do not believe that God gave me any ethics to follow. What He did was facilitate my path to education. The ethics that I should live be were left for me to work out for myself. It follows from this experience of truth search that God has never prescribed any particular values and practices for any human to follow. The religions were therefore all man-made imaginations of what God would like. Each individual examines the truth that confronts him in order to make a decision on what is right and wrong way to live. God does not have anything to say on these ethics. This is why we have ended up with so many different religions and the process of finding new religions goes on. Humans decide what to do in order to make their lives comfortable. This does not mean that God is not available to the individual. It is a Personal God capable of giving personal advice and guidance but He rarely does so. He has guided evolution towards the establishment of humanity by interjecting in nature.
In view of the lack of God-imparted ethics for humanity to live by we need to work out our own ethics for ethical living. This implies that religion-guided doctrinal ethics could be entirely delusional and we cannot rely on them. This is not to denigrate the followers who may find solace in the practices and beliefs of attaining specific objectives which they are happy to live for. But for the rationalist who wants to find out the right ethics it takes us to devising what secular ethics should be given that God-based and religious ethics are rejected as irrational.
How do we go about devising secular ethics if we were to start with a clean slate. We need to study humanity and start with a definition of what is a secularist. Secularists are people who do not take their guidance from God. They practice secularism generally in a form that is highly critical of many selected religion-ascribed doctrinal ethics and may therefore be said to be anti-religion. Secularists are generally if not exclusively atheists and there may be theists and deists who are also secularists. So what we describe as secular ethics is a system of morality that is God-free. This could be anything, so the question arises as to what is the ideal secular ethics.
Secularists prefer a system of human values to be assigned arbitrarily on what appears to be right or wrong as logical and illogical. Secular ethics may therefore take many forms and as for example in the ethics of the ‘survival of the fittest’ that is known as the libertarian cause in which personal freedoms are paramount. On the other hand we have the ethics of living as groups with responsibilities for group survival and harmony in which we consider concepts of fairness, equality and humanism to promote harmony in a system of law that is applied on society. Secularism needs to consider what is optimal for harmony in society that will make society function in perpetuity. Without such a focus secularism makes for a chaotic society with divisions and a disharmonious community. The term society relates to coherence and harmony in the way people live together and prosper year after year and generation after generation.
If one thinks that there is effectively no God telling us what to do one has to regard humans as purely animals just like any other whose primary purpose is to survive to procreate and evolve. One consideration then must be to base secular ethics on the principle of evolutionary biology that human species succeed in this ‘need’, which is a universal adventure for all plants and animals. Humanity would come to an abrupt end were our ethics to fall foul of evolutionary imperatives that ensure the survival of the species in some form. If one sees that group success is best catered for by attaining thriving human populations that are self-sufficient for regeneration we have societies in which ethics are increasingly geared to group living as being of greater fitness in evolutionary biology. Human societies that do not develop with the objective of ensuring the future propagation of society (by adopting appropriate ethics of the nature just described) will not be as successful economically and physically as societies that are primarily geared for their survival in nature. If secular ethics does not aim to attain the biological objectives of a healthy genetic pool through appropriate group behaviour it is likely to lead to an evolutionary dead end. In other words, a logical way of determining ethics is by considering how humans best propagate themselves so that human evolution does not come to an end through group living as discussed here: https://shantanup.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/secular-ethics-must-be-based-on-evolutionary-biology-2/.
However, at the other end of the scale we have highly coercive regimes (communism or Islam) that can also be described as being the very unethical because of excessive erosion of personal freedoms. Humans also have emotions and feelings that need to be considered so that exceptionally stringent group behaviour such as in communism or Islamism will not lead to group harmony. Emotions will vary between the secular and non-secular; the latter, being faith-based and even ritualistic, is a form of living in which normal emotions are under considerable check. There is a need for social development that considers human emotions and feelings to moderate the progress the human species healthily into future generations. The ethics of interpersonal relationships and the laws for community living should not only aim for evolutionary fitness it must generate contentment and happiness in the population at the same time. Implantation of liberal ethical values of freedom do lead to evolutionary drift to render the cultures less viable in comparison with patriotic and nationalistic ethics which promote the viability of cultures, but secular ethics cannot be established by at the cost of abandoning personal freedoms. Excessive personal freedoms is however also highly unethical and constituting unethical living due to the selfishness involved. So we see that the development of society is a matter of the degree of compromise adopted between the personal freedoms and rights of the individual by its moderation for attaining group objectives for group harmony. Defining ethics to be about ‘fairness’ in interpersonal dealings begins to moderate the libertarian principles of the freedoms enjoyed by the individual by favouring the interests, rights and responsibilities entailed in group living leads to the concept for society. Similarly, ethics is also about moderating your survival and procreational instincts by being more caring. So from libertarianism (total freedom of the individual) we tend towards liberalism and at the end for full group living we have socialism which in its extreme form is communism. Moderation comes at the cost of imposing varying degrees of coercion to make the individual perform societal roles and this will depend on what the population will tolerate. Group harmony is maximised and therefore most ethical somewhere in the middle of this spectrum from total freedom (highly unethical) to highly coercive (also highly unethical) regimes because the considerations of personal liberty and groupism is balanced.
Thus, complete personal freedom (doing whatever a person wants) and individualistic living is unethical and communism group living is also unethical. Ethics is about finding the middle ground between these two extremes. The extreme libertarian (free willed person) would do things for personal gratification regardless of its negative consequences on others (let us say rape, paedophilia, unbridled capitalism), where as the extreme communistic groupie will do things that destroy personal liberty (such as freedom of expression, right to practice religion, right to free social and family life, engaging in business activities). The ethics of the middle ground is a balance of both these extremes so makes for harmony and maximise contentment in society and represent evolutionary optimality.
Determining secular human ethics is thus a process of balancing individualistic freedoms with the group responsibilities that are needed to achieve greater evolutionary fitness. Further, harmony through correct ethical values can only be attained when the environmental dimension is added to the human dimension in a holistic approach to life (https://shantanup.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-ethics-of-biodiversity-and-environment-management/) . Correct ethical values are those that enable the individual (and hence society) to proceed through life (and between generations) in perfect balance with the environment (which includes relationships other human beings and societies). The Earth has to be good place for humans to live in. It needs the ethics of environmental protection and encouraging biodiversity. The size of the human population in relation to environment needs to be consider the value of preserving the global biodiversity by enforcing measures that stop the demand on resources (human population and economic growth) rising. Thus secular ethics should be the art of survival and procreation in societal and environmental harmony.
Evolutionary biology defines how animals survive to reproduce in accordance with their environment. If the environment changes drastically the species could go extinct unless it has adapted to the changed environment. The speed with which we have changed the environment has left no time for man to evolve to it so we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction. As you know we are suffering from severe pollution and global warming and more drastic weather patterns as well as changes to the composition of the atmosphere and the oceans. This is the direct result of capitalist expansion of our demand for bigger and better goods and services. So we have a ethical question: do we go on doing so and damage the environment further or do we start to live sustainably with the environment in our own self-interest? We need other species if we are to survive ourselves. So we must allow other species to thrive naturally in the environment as viable species. Damaging the environment destroys other organisms as well as damaging our own health and well being. The is the environmental dimension to ethics. I have already argued that ethically we need a system of values that allows humans to develop group harmony in contrast to the selfish totally libertarian freedom for individuality on the one hand and the highly coercive regimes of communism and fascism for groupism on the other hand. Otherwise there will be conflicts and people will kill each other in wars. Peace and prosperity are vital for our survival as a species. This is the human aspect of the ethics of evolutionary biology.
Religious ethics is carrying out what is perceived as God’s wishes. It is noteworthy that when we examine the evolution of societies from the theistic perspective we see the dominance of Islamic, Christian, Hindu and Jewish philosophies that have withstood the test of time as evolutionary developments because these groups are geared to family life and cultural unity as their central ethics which led to the proliferation of these societies. Where these ethical principles are abandoned in favour of secular liberal tradition of freedom, equality and human rights rather than the function of the group, societies disintegrate and drift. Thus, it is argued that religion has had a positive effect on the proliferation of human societies. But they were not God-imparted ethics and therefore there are religious conflicts across the world http://satyaadvaita.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/the-evolutionary-basis-of-religious-conflicts/.
I have a view of the world’s problems and a solution that I consider ethical. It is called optimal management of the environment, not giving total freedom to any group to do whatever it wants and not wanting very coercive regimes that destroy freedoms completely. In other words I support a balanced approach to how humans should conduct themselves in relation to their environment.
What I have described here as philosophy rather than a religion is the result of extensive truth accommodation. It should give humanity a chance to chart a much more peaceful future knowing that I have taken the trouble of consulting God in arriving at my conclusions (see also :http://satyaadvaita.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/the-ethics-from-the-practice-of-satya-advaita/).
Rational Theism Intolerance towards those practicing religion-derived ethics is the unacceptable face of secularism and thus the terms secular ethics does not describe the ethics promoted by this blog. Since it acknowledges that a God exists but does not impart ethics to humanity, the ethics derived from rational theism.